Geordi La Forge
Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge
United Federation of Planets|
(FCT, INS, NEM)
(Seasons 1-7, GEN)
USS Enterprise-D - Seasons 2-7, Movies)
(USS Enterprise-D - Season 1)
(Seasons 3-7, Movies)
Lieutenant, Junior Grade
|Father||Edward La Forge|
|Mother||Silva La Forge|
|Portrayed by||LeVar Burton|
|First appearance||"Encounter at Farpoint" (TNG)|
Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge / / is a fictional character who appeared in all seven seasons of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation and its four feature films. Portrayed by LeVar Burton, he served as helmsman of the USS Enterprise-D in the first season, then occupied the role of the chief engineer for the rest of the series and in the films. La Forge has been blind since birth and uses technological devices that allow him to see - a VISOR in the series and the first film, replaced by ocular prosthetic implants in the last three films.
Concept and development
Gene Roddenberry created the character in honor of George La Forge, a quadriplegic fan of the original Star Trek series who died in 1975. A casting call was placed with agencies for the role, which described him as friends with Data, and specified that La Forge should have "perfect diction and might even have a Jamaican accent" and instructed those agencies not to submit "any 'street' types."
LeVar Burton auditioned for the role in 1986. He had previously appeared in Roots and other major network shows. He stated that "years ago I was doing a TV movie called Emergency Room and it was a fairly miserable experience. But there was a producer on that show, a man named Bob Justman.... six, seven years later, I get this call from Bob Justman and he’s working at Paramount on this new Star Trek series and he said I remember your love of the show, we’ve got this character, would you be interested in coming in and seeing us? And I said was [franchise creator] Gene [Roddenberry] involved? He said he is. And I said I’ll be right there." Roddenberry was very pleased with Burton at his first audition.
Burton also commented that he was anxious about his role, because he feared that ST:TNG was going to flop: "At the beginning, you know, there was a lot of conversation in the press at what a bad idea this was [but] I thought that since Gene was involved we had a real good shot of making a good show that would carry on in that tradition of Star Trek."
Throughout the series, Burton was equipped with Geordi La Forge's trademark VISOR, which he found extremely unpleasant to wear: "It’s pretty much a living hell... 85 to 90% of my vision is taken away when the VISOR goes on... I bumped into everything the first season–Light stands, overhead microphones, cables at my feet–I tripped over it all... So it’s a sort of conundrum – the blind man, who puts on the VISOR and sees much more than everyone else around him, when the actor actually does that he’s turned into a blind person. Then there was the pain. In the second season, we re-designed the VISOR and made it heavier and the way we actually affixed it was that we screwed it, we literally screwed it into my head and so there were screws that we would turn and there were flanges on the inside that would press into my temples and so after fifteen or twenty minutes of that I got headaches. So I had a daily headache for about six years. Which was also no fun."
During the series, Burton's character was Chief Engineering Officer, and thus was often portrayed repairing machines or discovering new scientific phenomena. Burton commented how hard it sometimes was to straight-facedly deliver the Treknobabble used by La Forge in these scenes: "Technobabble brings with it its own challenge... I’m not an engineer, I just played one on TV. The methodology that I found most successful was to really spit it out as fast as I possibly could. Giving the illusion that I knew what I was talking about when, in fact, I really didn’t."
Asked about his favorite scenes, Burton answered that he especially liked holodeck adventures: "The Holmes and Watson episodes for Data and Geordi, the Robin Hood episode, you know, those were a lot of fun for us. I think the holodeck was a very cool concept, you know. You can create a three dimensional reality ... I mean, how cool is that?"
Following the end of the series, Burton has stated how much he profited from The Next Generation; "When I got married my best man was Brent (Spiner, who portrayed the ST:TNG character Lieutenant Commander Data) and my groomsmen were Michael (Dorn, Lieutenant Worf) and Jonathan (Frakes, Commander Riker) and Patrick (Stewart, Captain Picard). No matter what, we will always be family to each other. I mean in every respect. There have been times when, there have been feuds within the family, when it hasn’t been all hugs and kisses. But we have stuck together."
In the Star Trek fictional universe, a VISOR is a device used by the blind to artificially provide them with a sense of sight. A thin, curved device worn over the face like a pair of sunglasses, the VISOR scans the electromagnetic spectrum, creating visual input, and transmits it into the brain of the wearer via the optic nerves. The sensors are located on the convex side, that covers the eyes and attaches at small input jacks implanted in the temples. The only VISOR seen on screen was used by Geordi La Forge, who was blind from birth. VISOR is an acronym for "Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement", though the complete term appeared only in novelizations and other written tie-in products, and never in the series.
The VISOR also caused him persistent pain, which could not be treated without interfering with the device. Beverly Crusher and Katherine Pulaski, the two high-ranking doctors who served on the ship, were unfamiliar with the device when first meeting LaForge.
The device does not reproduce normal human vision, but does allow the character to "see" energy phenomena visible to the naked human eye while expanding the wearer's full perceived spectrum to 1 Hz — 100 PHz. This also allowed the character to see human vital signs such as heart rate and temperature, giving him the ability to monitor moods and even detect lies in humans (but not aliens). In the episode Heart of Glory, Captain Picard keys the main viewer to Geordi's visor allowing him to see the way he does. Seeing all the overlapping and different wavelengths was highly confusing to the Captain, prompting him to ask Geordi how he was able to differentiate between them all. Geordi's response made the comparison of a child hearing many different sounds at once and eventually being able to pick out what they needed; it is a learned talent.
Twice in the series, Geordi refused to be granted natural vision, first by Commander Riker, who had been given extraordinary amounts of power by Q, because it would have come at the cost of Riker's humanity, and later by Doctor Katherine Pulaski.
Sometime between 2371 and 2373, before the time of the film Star Trek: First Contact, Geordi's VISOR was replaced by cybernetic eyes, performing the same functions. On film, they are depicted using a combination of cosmetic contact lenses and CGI.
There was a short time period in Star Trek: Insurrection where Geordi regained his actual sight, due to the effects of fictional metaphasic radiation, in the atmosphere of the planet Ba'ku. However, the effects of the metaphasic radiation wore off after leaving the planet, and the cybernetic eyes were once again used in the film Star Trek Nemesis.
New Scientist magazine reported on research as to whether a device similar to a VISOR can actually be created for blind or visually impaired people. Partial sight has been successfully restored to blind rats by installing an implant behind the retina.
Several types of visual prosthesis are in development or trials in humans, and one device has been approved for sale in the European market. As of 2006, 16 blind people worldwide have had sight partially restored in a procedure where electrodes implanted in their brains take impulses from a camera to allow patients to see lights and outlines of objects. There is a device developed by NASA called a Joint Optical Reflective Display, or JORDY, that is presumably named for Geordi La Forge.
On August 14, 2012, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published an article stating the code which the retina uses to send signals to the brain has been cracked, and scientists have successfully restored full vision to blind mice. Scientists were able to mimic this ocular response using glasses, and speculate that a similar pair of glasses may be available for human use within two years.
LeVar Burton, who played the character of Geordi La Forge, disliked the VISOR prop because it restricted his peripheral vision – albeit less than its prototypes – and the constant pressure of the prop's arms on his temples caused headaches. In commentary for Star Trek Generations, film writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga noted Burton also felt the prop limited him as an actor, as it denied him the use of his eyes in conveying emotion. The original prop was inspired by a one-piece women's hair clip brought to production by Michael Okuda during the initial conceptual development of the VISOR prop.
In the series, we learn that Geordi was born blind and wears a VISOR, an arc-shaped prosthetic attached at the temples that provides him with vision. Interfacing directly with his brain, the device enables him to "see" much of the electromagnetic spectrum – radio waves, infrared, ultraviolet, and beyond, but not normal light perception, though it does allow Geordi to see the visible light section of the EM spectrum.
La Forge was born February 16, 2335 in the African Confederation on Earth to Silva La Forge, a Starfleet command track officer and eventual Captain of the USS Hera (NCC-62006) and Edward M. La Forge, a Starfleet exozoologist (TNG: "Interface"). He has also mentioned having a sister, Arianna. La Forge stated that with two parents in Starfleet he was an "army brat", frequently moving homes depending on where his parents were stationed around Earth (or other planets). He attended Zefram Cochrane High School (Star Trek: First Contact) and then Starfleet Academy from 2353 to 2357 (TNG: "Conundrum"). In 2357, he was assigned as an ensign aboard the USS Victory under Captain Zimbata (TNG: "Elementary, Dear Data"). After his first cruise, he was transferred to the USS Hood serving with then Lt. Commander William Riker for her 2361-64 cruise, during which he was promoted to lieutenant junior grade (TNG: "Conundrum").
La Forge once impressed Captain Jean-Luc Picard by staying up all night to fix a shuttle craft that Picard mentioned had a superficial problem. Upon learning this, Picard decided he wanted Geordi on his next command ("TNG": "The Next Phase") which ended up being the Enterprise-D where Geordi was assigned to him as a helmsman. At the beginning of Season 2, he was promoted to Lieutenant and named Chief Engineer; in Season 3, he rose to Lieutenant Commander, a rank that he held for the duration of the series and movies.
In 2372, Geordi is transferred to the new Sovereign class starship Enterprise-E. When the ship travels back in time to the 21st century, he works alongside Dr. Zefram Cochrane and helps him successfully launch Earth's first warp-capable vessel and achieve first contact with the Vulcans (Star Trek: First Contact).
During the Ba'ku incident, La Forge began to experience pain in his eyes after sojourning on the planet. Doctor Crusher removes his ocular implants to discover that his optic nerves have regenerated and he has gained normal sight. This effect is caused by the healing properties of the Ba'ku ring system and, at the time, it is speculated that the effect will fade after La Forge leaves Ba'ku (Star Trek: Insurrection). This diagnosis proved correct; La Forge again wears the implants in Star Trek: Nemesis.
During the events of the comic book mini-series Star Trek: Countdown (which serves as the official prequel to the 2009 Star Trek film), Geordi (now a civilian) is reunited with Data and Picard during an effort to stop a massive supernova that threatens all of existence. Geordi ultimately designs the Jellyfish, the advanced spacecraft that is piloted by Ambassador Spock in the film.
Alternate time lines
In the alternate timeline of TNG series finale "All Good Things...", La Forge has, by 2395, married Leah Brahms and had three children (Alandra, Brett, and Sydney) with her. He had left Starfleet and became a novelist. However, these events may never happen because of the divergence of the time line at the episode's end.
In the alternate 2390 future in Star Trek: Voyager's "Timeless", La Forge is a captain and the commanding officer of the USS Challenger, doing his best to stop Harry Kim and Chakotay from altering the time line. He had micro-implants in his eyes, allowing him to see without wearing his visor. However, Kim and Chakotay succeed in their mission, erasing the alternate time line. Despite trying his best to stop them, La Forge is sympathetic to their actions and even offers a full pardon if they stop. When they refuse, La Forge is forced to attack, but wishes them good luck and says that in their place, he'd probably do the same. When the group's ship suffers a warp core breach and is going to explode, he offers to beam them aboard his ship so they can survive, but they refuse and tell him to move off to a safe distance which he does.
In the holographic alternate history depicted in "Future Imperfect", a fictitious La Forge had cloned eye implants and had no need of his visor.
Critics and fans have responded favorably to the character. Burton himself has complained on DVD featurettes about the lack of romantic interests for his character. At least one scholar, however, decries that out of seven principal black characters across the Star Trek series, only La Forge and Tuvok "really qualify as nerds, and neither of them compares with the extraordinary geekiness of the teenaged Wesley Crusher." According to Dr. Ron Eglash, the construction of the La Forge character stands up to the standards of Afrofuturism.
In David Greven's book Gender and Sexuality in Star Trek (2009), he described the use of the VISOR as a means to obscure the face of the character, describing it as a "surprisingly clunky symbol of blindness". However, he felt that the bionic eyes used in the film series were an improvement but followed a pattern of African American eye modifications in fantasy and science fiction films such as Halle Berry as Storm in X-Men (2000). Greven suggested that these changes were to create the impression that the wearer was alien in nature and to highlight the difference between that character/actor and the others in the film.
- Roddenberry (1987): p. 7
- Nemecek (2003): p. 15
- Shrager (1997): p. 75
- "Interviews | LeVar Burton | Auditioning for Geordi". BBC Cult. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
- Schrager (1997). p. 76
- "Interviews | LeVar Burton | VISOR Pain". BBC Cult. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
- "Interviews | LeVar Burton | Technobabble". BBC Cult. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
- "Interviews | LeVar Burton | The Acting of Science". BBC Cult. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
- "Interviews | LeVar Burton | A Friendly Crew". BBC Cult. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
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- Smialek, Geanna (August 14, 2012). "Blind Mice Given Sight After Device Cracks Retinal Code". Bloomberg. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
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- Greven (2009): p. 100
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- Geordi La Forge at the official Star Trek website